Retaining Key Employees In The Modern Workforce

Posted by David Lee on June 3, 2019

 Employees In The Modern Workforce

By David Lee, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, ACPMPO, and Product Manager at Deltek.

With employee retention rates suffering, it is critical that companies focus on engaging and retaining the talented employees they have rather than being mired in unnecessary spending. Although deemed “necessary” costs in order to keep projects staffed and operations afloat, organizations that lack focus on retention are racking up “unnecessary” acquisition costs back-filling positions. The costs below are just the tip of the iceberg:

  • Third party recruiting fees
  • Additional acquisition team members and associated burden
  • Skyrocketing spending on job boards/postings

What doesn’t show up on the balance sheet are the following additional costs:

  • On-boarding costs for Human Resources
  • Mentors, SMEs and Trainers spending time on new hire training rather than strategic organizational training initiatives
  • Survivor stress for the employees that are covering the holes in the organization while simultaneously burning out
  • Customer relationships that are damaged due to turnover

According to a 2018 LinkedIn Study, Professional Services has the fourth highest industry-based turnover rate. This study further details out the areas where organizations are struggling the most in creating an ideal employee experience that engages and retains performers. Notably: 45% of employees are concerned about the lack of opportunities for advancement.

Who is the Modern Workforce?

There has never been a more critical time for investing in our employees. With the generational shift and the seemingly constant on-boarding of new talent, there is no choice but to invest in developing top performers in order to sustain our businesses. More and more inexperienced leaders are being moved into management, and this number is set to soar without appropriate training and development of new leaders.

We know who the modern workforce is, that they crave authenticity, development, variety, advancement and strong relationships with their colleagues. With all of this discussion and focus on “employee experience”, what do we focus on first (or most)? Where do we start and how do we enact a plan to get near immediate return in these areas of focus?

Automation- Who Uses Paper Anymore?

Apparently, quite a few organizations are still using paper. Technology plays a huge role in the candidate and employee life-cycle. The full HR technology stack with an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), Core HRIS, Performance and Development, Continuous Feedback, Career Pathing, Succession Planning, and Learning Management System (LMS) are critical components to automating and transforming workforce management and development. We know employees are our #1 asset, yet our recent Clarity Survey reveals that roughly 40% of firms are using outdated or inappropriate HR solutions.  Also, generally speaking, companies are still looking for hard ROI propositions that support the value in implementing HR-related technology, when we know that much of the return can be soft ROI as well. Simply put, with the extreme dearth of talent and the urgency in developing and retaining performers, we must invest heavily in these solutions in order to improve experience and retention.

Tip #1- Ask ourselves “Are we fully invested in HR-related technology to digitally transform our organization…and if not, why not?”

First Impressions

There is a palpable excitement in a new beginning that is only, at times, overshadowed by the uncertainty in the decision. With that in mind, bring in the backdrop of the current employment landscape. With unemployment at a significantly low level, opportunities are abundant. This means the impression that our talent acquisition team/process makes on a candidate is paramount. Every step of the employee experience process is pivotal, from our brand in the marketplace to the first interaction our team has with a candidate, through the eventual off-boarding of the employee.

Effective, engaging candidate interactions are highly critical to acquiring top market talent, not just simply individuals to fill positions. Every interaction, the lag between, and the quality of the discussions in the recruiting process is key. From there, a focused, thorough on-boarding program sets new hires up for success and aligns them with the organization immediately.

Tip #2- Ask ourselves “How can we improve our first impressions? Are we easy to apply and interview with, and do we have an on-boarding-focused culture?”


Once we bring a candidate on board and have impacted them positively with an excellent acquisition and on-boarding experience, we need to carry that momentum into continuous employee engagement. The two to three week period before their first day should contain continued interaction with our organization with best practice engagement techniques. Once on board, the employee life cycle is vast and we have so many areas where we must provide impact. With that said, we need to define a strategy for quick wins/improvement while simultaneously developing a long-term solution. Unfortunately, there is no time to breathe after we make the hire. We must continue the momentum that we have built during hiring and on-boarding.

Tip #3- Ask ourselves “Are we doing our best to keep an employee’s enthusiasm and engagement high after the offer is made through on-boarding?”

High Impact Quick Wins

If we know the significant areas of concern in our organization, we must solve those issues as quick/immediate wins to provide quick impact to our customers. Ensuring we are truly underneath the glaring weaknesses is critical. Ongoing employee pulse surveys and continuous feedback sessions are great ways to develop trust with employees and learn honest perspectives on your culture and processes. 

Tip #4- Ask ourselves “How can we find out our biggest areas of focus and implement sound, quick wins in order to drive retention and improve the employee experience?”

Eyes on the Long-Term

A 2016 Gallup study notes engagement’s effect on key business outcomes. Most notably, organizations in the top quartile in engagement realize the following improvements:

  • 41% drop in absenteeism
  • 59% reduction in turnover
  • 70% reduction in safety incidents
  • 58% reduction in patient safety incidents

While we look for quick wins to close gaps in our processes and improve employee experience and retention, keep in mind that long-term focus can reduce safety incidents, improve sales and profitability and keep your top performers from leaving for a competitor.

Tip #5- Ask ourselves “Do we have a good handle on our key metrics and are we ready to improve and measure our success?”


“How do I intend to change my organization based on what I have learned today?” It is a perfect question to ask yourself. Will this be another article and call to action that you read and plan to address later, or are you ready to act now and start implementing the quick wins and long-term strategic vision to solve the retention and engagement crisis at your organization.

*Additional credit to Kristi Weierbach, Ph.D.- Director, Workforce Advisory at Stambaugh Ness for her contributions to this blog.


About the Author

David Lee is currently a Product Manager for the post-hire modules within the Deltek Talent Management suite, Dave has oversight of Performance, Learning and Development/Succession. As a former Vice President of Human Resources, David possesses nearly twenty years of Human Resources expertise with significant focus in talent/employee development and employee relations, and is a DDI certified leadership trainer and possesses an MBA from Walden University as well as various HR certifications.